Dreading the lasts: Fontbonne community reckons with closure

and | Managing News Editor and Staff Writer

Fontbonne University will close its doors in the fall of 2025. (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life).

Just over a week after Fontbonne University’s president, Nancy Blattner, announced that Fontbonne plans to shut its doors in the fall of 2025, students on Fontbonne’s campus were partaking in an Easter egg hunt. 

With a little over a year left before the university closes and Washington University buys the 16-acre campus, the Fontbonne community must come to terms with a myriad of decisions: to transfer or stay? To retire or find a new position? To play sports at a new school, or stay for one last season? For now, however, the focus was on fun: pulling candy and plastic eggs from tree branches and behind buildings.  

First-years Connor Randel and Jake Schweitzer were among the students running around looking for eggs on a Friday afternoon, a week before Easter. 

The two students had been together when they heard the news — alongside the rest of the men’s soccer team — and they could tell something was wrong as soon as their coach sat them down. 

“I don’t think I’m ever going to forget that,” Randel said. “It was very solemn.”

Sophomore Trevor Patton had driven to Fontbonne’s campus on March 11 to pick up football gear — he’s a running back on the newly-formed sprint football team — when he heard the news. 

“I got on campus and I saw a bunch of kids storming out of the gymnasium. And then I got told from a teammate that school’s basically closed,” Patton said. “I was kind of upset because, you know, I just got here.” 

Patton transferred this year from University of Missouri, where he played on the Tigers football team as a first-year student. Hoping to get more playing time, Patton moved to the much-smaller Fontbonne, which is also closer to his family in St. Louis. 

He’s a little frustrated that the announcement came so late into the year. If he had known a few months earlier, he may have tried to transfer out and join another team. 

“I had to pay all this money to get here and now it’s closing down,” Patton said. “It’s kind of hard for me as an athlete to try to find another place to play because a lot of colleges are done recruiting.” 

Blattner said that the university’s Board of Trustees had voted to close the school in the fall of 2025 on March 10, after the regional accreditor for Fontbonne had notified the institution that the university would not be able to bring in a new class of students for fall 2024. 

Patton said that his family is pretty calm about the school’s closure, even though it might mean three schools in three years for Patton. 

“They’re Christians,” Patton said. “So they feel like whatever happens, it happens for a reason. So we’ll find a way to bounce back from this, and maybe this was meant to be so I can find something better.” 

Sophomore Jacob Lorimier came to Fontbonne from nearby Florissant, Missouri, where he went to a small Jesuit high school. He liked being able to know the names of the students around him, spending his time in that close atmosphere, and he felt the same warmth at Fontbonne.

“It was always a nice benefit that it was close to home, and I had a cousin of mine who attended Fontbonne and graduated, so I knew a little bit of the school,” Lorimier said. 

Since getting to Fontbonne, Lorimier has joined a range of student groups, including the men’s soccer team. He was with Randel and Schweitzer when he found out about the school closure. 

“It hits you like a truck, it came out of nowhere,” Lorimier said. “It raised a lot of questions for myself and many teammates [to] figure out what it’s going to look like and all the possibilities for the near future. It was just, what’s going to happen next?” 

Professors, administrators, and staff at Fontbonne will also have to find their path forward after the university’s closure. Staff, Blattner said, will receive severance packages and can attend career-focused workshops to sharpen resumes and interviewing skills. 

Blattner herself was planning to retire in 2025, but said she will stay on until “all work to close Fontbonne in an orderly and dignified way is completed.” 

Dr. Elizabeth Rayhel, a biology professor at Fontbonne, has taught at the university for 26 years. She was initially drawn to the school because it was close to her house — 3.2  miles, to be exact — but stayed due to the atmosphere. 

I can only speak for my department and my experience, but for me it has been a welcoming, relaxed, intellectually free place to be,” Rayhel said in an email to Student Life. Fontbonne’s biology department is small, and Rayhel taught a variety of biology subtopics throughout her career there. 

“That has actually made me a better, more well-rounded biologist,” she said. “I worry that as more small schools fail, the option of having the career that I have enjoyed will be lost.”

Rayhel learned about Fontbonne’s eventual closure at a faculty and staff meeting just before the news was released to the public. While disheartened, Rayhel said she wasn’t surprised. 

“As you look at the demographics, it has been clear for some time that there are not enough students in the pipeline,” she said. “That said, even though many of us saw it coming, there was still hope that some last-minute pot of gold would save us.” 

Heather Norton, a former communications professor who worked at Fontbonne for two decades before she recently left, said in a written statement that she was saddened to hear the news. 

“We fought hard to keep it open, and it’s disappointing that it’s come to this,” Norton wrote. “The relationships that made Fontbonne what it was will persist, but it is sad that many current students are losing their university, and that Fontbonne will not be a place for future students to experience higher education.” 

Blattner said in an emailed interview that Fontbonne is offering multiple options for current students to complete their education. 

For one, undergraduate students who want to continue at Fontbonne will be awarded full scholarships for tuition for the summer 2024 and 2025 terms, and can take more than 18 credits in the fall and spring semesters at no cost in order to expedite the completion of their degrees. 

Graduate classes, too, are being discounted to $675 per credit hour beginning this summer, and are continuing through summer 2025. 

Students who choose to or must transfer can attend one of the handful of institutions that Fontbonne signed teach-out agreements with. The agreements stipulate that the school will accept Fontbonne credits, waive residency fees, and offer tuition at a comparable out-of-pocket cost to the student. 

A dozen institutions, mostly in Missouri and Illinois, signed teach-out agreements with Fontbonne, including Webster University, Maryville University, Lindenwood University, and Missouri Baptist. 

Blattner wrote that during its more than 100 years of operation, Fontbonne has graduated more than 20,000 students. 

“Even as Fontbonne prepares to close its doors, the legacy of Fontbonne continues to live on through the lives of our graduates, many of whom continue to live and work in the Greater St. Louis region,” she said. 

While some students, like Patton, are looking to transfer, many are staying for the university’s last year. 

Randel, Schweitzer, and Lorimier all decided to stick around to play a little more soccer. 

“They have guaranteed that we will have courses in both the summer of 2024 and 2025, so as a sophomore they have said that I will be able to graduate,” Lorimier said. 

As much as he loves the school, Lorimier said it was a hard decision to make, given all the factors he had to consider — as a two sport athlete, for track and field as well as soccer, he looked around to see if he wanted to play anywhere else. But after talking to his parents and mentors at Fontbonne, he made the call to stay.

“They’ve provided me with the insight that I needed to make a clear choice,” Lorimier said. “Obviously, a few days after the news, it was very emotional and all of our decisions were scattered.”

Rayhel, too, is sticking it out until the doors close. Afterwards, she’ll either retire or look for part-time teaching work. 

I dread the lasts,” she wrote, about final sports games, move-in day, and graduation. Spirit, however, hasn’t flagged much. 

“There really has been a palpable spirit within the community.  I would have preferred it to continue but if closing was inevitable, then I’m very grateful that ways were found for us to come to a (relatively) slow, soft landing,” Rayhel said. 

Lorimier said that, all things considered, he doesn’t regret his choice. 

“If I knew about [the closure] before I dedicated myself to a college, I would still pick Fontbonne,” he said. “It’s been an experience to remember and one I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.” 

As Randel and Schweitzer spoke about their experiences, just three-quarters into the first year of their college journey and already faced with the task of evaluating the future, they laughed and talked over each other, adding details into one another’s stories.

When asked if the students running past were also on the search for Easter eggs, he nodded, before noting that the students were definitely cheating. 

“I heard the golden egg buys back Fontbonne,” Randel joked, smiling. 

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